One of my roommates used to live in Toronto, and after going to the movies here in Boston she was complaining that they didn't have salt and vinegar powder to sprinkle on the popcorn that is apparently ubiquitous up there. Immediately my brain started spinning and next thing you know I was looking up everything about vinegar powder. The varieties available, where you can buy it, and of course how to make it. I sort of regret becoming so obsessed with the idea, because there wasn't exactly a specific guide or recipe out there. I tried a few things I saw that were similar to what I wanted, and after lots of trial and error I finally came up with a powder made from mostly vinegar.
The problem here was that this powder wasn't exactly the punch you in the face vinegar kick that I know and love from modern day salt and vinegar chips. It was more the wimpy dull vinegar from chips that used to be popular 10 years ago. I'm not a scientist but I do know from years of cooking that the chemical that makes the vinegar flavor actually burns off at a temperature that is slightly below boiling. This is why when you boil vinegar it smells so crazy in your house (You might have recently smelled this smell dying Easter eggs). This is also why a balsamic reduction has a stronger "balsamic" flavor, but a mellower vinegar bite, and why a recipe tastes much different if you add the vinegar at the beginning or at the end. I think that the way they make this powder commercially is to reduce the liquid without actually heating it. I was thinking of trying this again by putting the liquid on a large sheet pan with a fan on it, but I don't have a million hours to wait for it to reduce to one tenth its volume!
I started with baking soda and added vinegar to it in 1 cup increments until it stopped bubbling. It took about 15 cups of vinegar for ½ cup of baking soda. Again, I don't really know too much about the science, but this changes the chemical properties of the vinegar. If you just boiled vinegar down without adding the baking soda, it would just boil away to nothingness.
Boil until it is 1/10th its size. It started to sort of crackle towards the end of the boiling. In one of the guides I read it said to do this in the microwave but I feel like the microwave would retain the smell for weeks. Also something is weird to me about nuking a pyrex full of liquid for 20 minutes. Thirdly, I did way more than they did so this wasn't even feasible for me really.
As you can see in this picture, it starts to solidify right as you take it off the heat.
I bought maltodextrin for some of my earlier trials and I think it really helped this become a free flowing powder instead of some crystallized sort of chunks. Maltodextrin is weird stuff and I actually have a few ideas on how to use it again soon. The modern cooking style with chemicals like maltodextrin isn't exactly my favorite thing to do in the kitchen, but I find it fun to experiment with stuff like this from time to time, and it's always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve.
The quickly solidiftying vinegar reduction is placed into a coffee filter lined with some maltodextrin, and a little more is sprinkled on top. I let this sit for another hour or so to dry and harden more.
Then I ground it in the food processor with a little more of the maltodextrin and some salt.
Poured it into a salt shaker and went to town!
I was very happy with the final texture of the powder. It wasn't clumpy or rocky as I expected. This was a fun experience, and while I wish it didn't take 3 or 4 tries, I was happy to learn a few things about vinegars, solutions, and maltodextrin. If you put some of this powder on your finger, it did in fact taste like vinegar, it just didn't have that kick I was hoping for.
If I try this again and perfect it, I'll post a recipe, but for now if you want vinegar powder, you should probably buy it.
I'm taking a long weekend this weekend. I'm probably on a megabus to some distant land as you are reading this, and then Monday is the Marathon here in Boston, which is probably the greatest holiday of the year! See you guys next week!